This week CIMSEC will be publishing articles submitted in response to a call for articles issued in partnership with the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Maritime Systems Program Office (PMS 406). As Captain Pete Small, Program Manager of PMS 406, urged in the call, “We are looking for bold suggestions and innovative approaches… Unmanned systems are clearly a growing part of the future Navy. We need to think now about the changes these systems will bring and ensure their introduction allows their capabilities to be exploited to the fullest.”
Below is a list of articles featuring during the topic week that may be updated as prospective authors finalize additional publications.
Dust is settling in Sri Lanka after one of the most devastating and heinous terrorist attacks against Christians and foreign visitors (civilians) on 21st April 2019. It was supposed to be a day of glory and celebrations for Christians the world over. However, it turned out to be a day of horror and repugnance for Sri Lankans. The security forces and the police are doing a commendable job in taking follow-up action and are in the process of arresting large numbers of radicalized persons, criminals, and recovering large quantities of illegal weapons, explosives, detonators, vehicles, communications equipment, and forged passports and National Identity Cards. There were even several follow-on gun battles and explosions.
There is now country-wide fear and psychosis with many people staying at home unless it is really essential for them to go out. Schools and other educational institutions have been closed and all types of fanfare, musical shows, and festivities have been stopped. The print and electronic media is trying their best to keep the population informed of the developing situation as well as advising on precautions to be taken. Religious leaders of all denominations led by His Eminence Malcom Cardinal Ranjith are sending message after message appealing to their followers to practice tolerance and requesting them not to take the law into their own hands, which has prevented the escalation of violence against the innocent Muslim populations.
Terrorism and Counterterrosim
The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change described terrorism as any action that is “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or noncombatants, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.”
In short, terrorism could be described as basically indiscriminate violence against non-combatants to achieve political, religious, or some other objective. While terrorism is a tactic that cannot be entirely eradicated, steps can be taken to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately defeat organizations that use terrorism. Counterterrorism is defined in the U.S. Army Field Manual as “Operations that include the offensive measures taken to prevent, deter, preempt, and respond to terrorism.” This definition is more concrete but has its strengths and weaknesses. First, it correctly states that counterterrorism is an all-inclusive doctrine including prevention, deterrence, preemption, and responses, which would require bringing to bear all aspects of a nation’s power both domestically and internationally. Second, this definition includes everything but essentially differentiates nothing, which is a problem.
Counterterrorism is a difficult concept to define, especially in democracies. There is no universally applicable counter-terrorism policy since every conflict involving terrorism has its own unique characteristics. Democracies must make respect for civil liberties and the rule of law, a staple in their counterterrorism strategies. While this ambition for liberal democracies is admirable and complies with championed democratic principles, it does not always amount to a counterterrorism strategy – these should be simply highly valued principles meant to guide counterterrorism. Counterterrorism (also called anti-terrorism) incorporates the practice, military tactics, techniques, and strategy that government, military, police and other organizations use to combat or prevent terrorism. It must be remembered that human rights and individual freedoms are good, but the right to live is most important. The Easter Bombings took away the right to live from nearly 250 innocent civilians.
The Easter Bombings have created a major problem in Sri Lanka. A person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims is a terrorist. A terrorist was originally seen as a person from an underprivileged community, less educated, less economically sound, lower social status, victimized, and motivated for a cause. However, in the 21st bombing the terrorists are reported to be highly educated, both locally and in abroad, from rich families, economically sound, exposed to the world and believers of a religious sect, and highly motivated for a cause even against the mainstream religion of their culture. This showcases a significant degree of indoctrination, facilitated either locally or by foreign influence.
Lessons to be Learned from the Easter Bombings
The Easter Bombings have clearly displayed the vulnerability of Sri Lanka, its community, and installations to a terrorist attack. It reveals that almost any target could have been selected by a terrorist and been attacked. These incidents also prove that national security has been quite at the bottom of the country’s agenda despite the fact the country experienced a protracted conflict against a very formidable terrorist organization for nearly three decades. In simple words, there was a lack of security culture in the country. We have not been able to take effective, timely counter-action to prevent, deter, or detect these perpetrators despite credible intelligence warnings. Insufficient attention was given to intelligence warnings due to a lack of security culture.
It must be remembered that intelligence is not mere information. Many strands of information need to be gathered, collated, and evaluated in order to derive effective actionable intelligence. Thereafter it must be disseminated to the necessary agencies and personnel. It must be remembered that intelligence means different things to different agencies based on their own expertise and the domain they focus on. The multiple intelligence organizations in the country need to be integrated, a practice we developed and effectively used toward the end of the civil war which devastated the country. Like a jigsaw puzzle, the full picture only comes together when the pieces are effectively combined. However, we need to look beyond the picture and link, evaluate, and identify trends, both locally and internationally, which would enable us to predict with certain accuracy and make intelligence actionable. The sharing of intelligence, taking prompt action, and then follow-up action are all key to successful counter terrorism operations.
Even then, unless there is a positive national security culture, this actionable intelligence will not find its due place in the hands of decision-makers. Sri Lanka is a small island state geo-strategically located at arguably the most critical location in the Indian Ocean, among competing spheres of influence of major powers. Furthermore, the country has come out of a prolonged conflict. Therefore, all our actions, our foreign relations, the development of infrastructure, and the development of economy must give due consideration and priority to national security.
The Way Forward
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka, which prided itself on being the only country in the contemporary world to completely defeat terrorism on its soil, is bleeding again. It is believed that with a proper national security culture the Easter carnage could have been prevented or the impact minimized. Unfortunately, it was not the case. Terrorists achieved what they wanted – to create fear and psychosis by mayhem and death of large numbers of innocent civilians, and earning worldwide media coverage. This dastardly act will not quickly fade given how the suffering of the people has been immense.
But we need to move on. We need to keep national security as our upper-most priority and create a culture of security. Countering terrorist activities cannot be done by government forces alone. It has to be a comprehensive effort and a whole-of-nation approach, similar to what we had toward the end of the separatist conflict. Not only did Sri Lanka finally overcome the most ruthless terrorist organization in May 2009, but we were not caught in the conflict trap as no major terrorist event took place for nearly ten years until the Easter Bombings. We had the best models of rehabilitation, resettlement, and reconstruction during the post-conflict period.
We must rise above the radicalized elements and evil forces that are waiting to destroy us. We are in desolation but not in despair. There is hope in humanity. Together we will survive but divided we perish. The choice is ours, but we owe it to the country and future generations.
Admiral (Dr.) Jayanath Colombage is a former chief of the Sri Lanka Navy who retired after an active service of 37 years as a four-star admiral. He is a highly decorated officer for gallantry and distinguished service. He is a graduate of Defence Services Staff College in India and Royal College of Defence Studies, UK. He holds a PhD from General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University. He also holds MSc on defence and strategic studies from Madras university and MA on International Studies from Kings college, London. He is a visiting lecturer at the University of Colombo, Defence Services Command and Staff college (Sri Lanka), Kotelawala Defence University, Bandaranaike Center for International Studies and Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute. He was the former Chairman of Sri Lanka Shipping Corporation and an adviser to the President of Sri Lanka on maritime affairs. He is a Fellow of Nautical Institute, London UK. Admiral Colombage is currently the Director of the Centre for Indo- Lanka Initiatives of the Pathfinder Foundation. He is also a member of the Advisory council of the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka. He is also a Guest Professor at Sichuan University in China.
Featured Image: Sri Lankan soldiers stand guard in front of the St. Anthony’s Shrine a day after the series of blasts, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 22. (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)
Throughout history, maritime nations have used naval blockades to wreck the economies of their adversaries and bend them to their will. However, the impact of blockade in history has been overstated. Throughout history, blockade has been a part of military success, but it has never been the primary key to victory. Most successful blockades enabled land campaigns to succeed but would not have won wars on their own. Blockades are a politico-economic form of warfare that can quite often have unexpected political results. Modern calls to defeat China solely through an “easy and bloodless” naval blockade understate the physical difficulties and political challenges of a successful blockade, ignore that successful blockades support events ashore, and that blockades have not been successful as standalone campaigns.
Legal Definitions of Blockade
The San Remo Manual on International Law applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea includes the requirements for a blockade. It must be announced, and all neutral and belligerent states should be notified of the blockade. It must be effectively maintained by a force as close as is required to be effective. It must not bar access to the ports and coast of a neutral state. It must be applied impartially to vessels of all states.
A blockade is not lawful if it has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denying it objects essential for survival, or the damage to the civilian population outweighs the military advantage of the blockade. The blockading belligerent shall allow the passage of medical supplies for the civilian population or for sick and wounded members of the armed forces.1 These requirements are designed to allow maritime states to conduct operations while minimizing the suffering of the civilian population of belligerents.
Quarantine is not a blockade. According to the Navy Commander’s Handbook on Operational Law, “the goal of quarantine is de-escalation and a return to the status quo ante.” The goal of a blockade is “denial and degradation of an enemy’s capability.”2
The British Blockade of Napoleonic and Revolutionary France
While some have argued that British blockades were the reason for victory over Napoleon, the blockades were not the root of victory. Even though they caused economic hardship it was not severe enough to force France to make a lasting peace. 20 years of blockade took its toll on cities like Bordeaux that relied on foreign trade and industries set up around imports like refining sugar, but the loss of such trade did not cause France to surrender. 20 years of bloody war from the Russian Steppes to the coast of Portugal caused the French empire to collapse after repeated military defeats ashore.
From 1793 until 1802 and between 1804 and 1814, Great Britain conducted a close naval blockade of France and her allies. Throughout the wars of the 18th century Britain had refined the techniques and logistics of supporting a fleet on a hostile shore for sustained periods of time. Despite the idea that the primary purpose of the blockade was to strangle French commerce, the real purpose of the blockade was to prevent the French from invading Britain or Ireland. Despite the arduous blockade, the French twice managed to land forces in Britain and Ireland during the war. The blockade did limit the size and effectiveness of the landings. Humorously, the French invaders that landed at Fishguard, Wales surrendered to the local women who had come to look at the strange invaders.
Throughout the war, the close blockade of Brest was hotly debated. Was it better for ships to be beaten and battered off the stormy Biscay coast, or to maintain the fleet in port in expectation for the French to come out? Ships were lost in wrecks or damaged sufficiently to be sent back to British dockyards for repairs. These losses impacted the overall strength of the blockading force if the French did come out.3 Parallels can be drawn between the surface fleet today and the Royal Navy of 1805. The dockyards were full of ships desperately needing refit after years at sea, but the number of qualified dockyard workers had dwindled in both private and public dockyards. Shortages of skilled dockyard workers meant that new construction took longer than expected. HMS Royal Sovereign, Admiral Collingwood’s flagship at Trafalgar, was still in construction after 12 years, almost 3 years longer than normal for a first rate ship of the line.4
The British blockade had an economic impact on Europe, but in some industries the impact was to preserve the traditional production method and delay the introduction of the new mechanized production methods used in Great Britain. The British blockade and the French Berlin Decrees banning trade between the continent and Great Britain certainly affected trade, but only seldom did it cause production to cease entirely. There were shortages of raw materials like cotton, but the cotton mills only went idle for a few months in 1808. The price was sometimes 2-4 times as high as that paid in Britain. From 1790 until 1810, French cotton consumption increased threefold while in Britain consumption increased fourfold.5
The blockade had unexpected political repercussions for Great Britain. The British blockade of France and her allies helped cause a war with Denmark in 1801 and the United States in 1812. Many ships from occupied places like the Netherlands ended up registering their vessels in neutral nations like Denmark and Sweden to continue trading. According to international law goods that were not contraband in neutral vessels could not be impeded. However, neutral goods such as hemp, pitch, tar, and pine logs were used to build and support naval vessels. Wheat was a neutral good but its dual use could make bread for the average French citizen or the citizen soldier. Britain argued that when the entire nation was in arms, was there a difference? Annoyed at British interference in their trade, Denmark, Sweden, Prussia, and Russia re-created the League of Armed Neutrality. Britain sent a fleet to Copenhagen, where Admiral Nelson fought a bloody battle with the Danes and persuaded them to surrender the remainder of the fleet. This combined with the death of Tsar Paul ended the League and its threat to the blockade.
In 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain over the issues of free trade and Sailors’ rights. Many American citizens had either moved from Great Britain or could have been considered British subjects because of when they were born in America. The Royal Navy, perennially short of Sailors, impressed them from merchant ships. To a nation fighting for its life, often times alone, the nationality of a Sailor might matter little, especially since the British government believed that subjects could not change their nationality and had “an inalienable right to their service.”6 In 1807, the HMS Leopard stopped and searched the warship USS Chesapeake, a U.S. naval vessel for deserters, took four and hung one of them. It was a step too far. President Thomas Jefferson stated of the affair, “Never since the Battle of Lexington have I seen this country in such a state of exasperation as at present, and even that did not produce such unanimity.” While this incident did not cause the United States to go to war, it played a role following continued British harassment of American merchant ships.
From 1805-1813 the U.S. and Britain negotiated over the meaning of neutral shipping. Despite these negotiations, by 1806 120 U.S.-flagged vessels had been seized by the Royal Navy. The British position insisted that American vessels must carry non-American goods to an American port, unload them, pay duties, reload them, and then they were free to transship them to any country. The U.S. position was that as a neutral nation they had the right to ship any goods anywhere.7
In 1806, the U.S. also challenged British ideas of what constituted a blockaded port. American diplomats challenged the idea that the entire coastline could be blockaded by proclamation, but rather that warships had to create, “an evident danger in entering.”8 The U.S. Congress responded to British and French declarations of blockade against each other with an embargo on some British manufactured goods in the expectation that economic policy might force the British to accede to American demands.9 The twin wounds to trade and national honor through impressment eventually meant that the U.S. preferred to fight than continue to submit to such injustices.
The British blockade hampered but never destroyed French trade. It made enemies of neutral nations, and did not expedite victory. Despite continued victory at sea, the Napoleonic Wars demonstrated that while a maritime power may contain a continental power, in total war a continental power must be defeated ashore.
Union Blockade of the Confederate States
Interestingly, if Britain would have acquiesced to American policy on blockade, then the Union blockade of the Confederacy may never have been legal. Despite the Union blockading the ports of the South, the Confederacy maintained open ports through almost the entire war. While the South suffered ever increasing shortages, blockade runners continued to supply the Confederate States and only the dominance of the northern armies compelled the South to capitulate.
The Union Navy began the war with 90 ships, including 40 steam vessels and 50 sailing ships. Not all of those ships were ready for war. Some were in the naval dockyards, some were stationed across the globe in California, the Mediterranean, Asia, and Brazil to protect tradeVessels stationed overseas would take up to six months to return to the U.S.10 At the outbreak of war, there were only three vessels ready for war on the Atlantic coast. It would take time for the Union Navy to marshal the forces required to conduct an effective blockade of a 3,500 mile coastline.
The Confederate and British governments did not believe that the Union Navy could successfully blockade the entire Confederate coast. However, the Union Blockade Strategy Board looked at the problem differently. Instead of worrying about the entire coastline, the Strategy Board broke the required blockade down to major ports with transport connections to the rest of the country. This drastically reduced the amount of coastline that required blockading. The Strategy Board utilized the United States Coast Survey’s records to examine the inlets, waterways, and ports of the South and decided that the primary ports of entry to blockade were Richmond, Norfolk, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, New Orleans, and Galveston. The James and Elizabeth River channels leading to Richmond and Norfolk were blocked by Fortress Monroe and began the war well-blockaded. The remainder of the ports required blockading squadrons.
The initial organization of the Union blockading squadron consisted of one squadron blockading the Confederate coast from the Virginia Capes to Key West. This was later divided into North and South Atlantic Blockading Squadrons. The North Atlantic Blockading Squadron was responsible for the blockade between the Virginia Capes and the border between North and South Carolina. The South Atlantic Blockading Squadron was responsible for the blockade from the North and South Carolina border to Key West. In the Gulf of Mexico there was the Gulf Blockading Squadron which was also subdivided between east and west; the Eastern Blockading squadron watching the port of Mobile and the Western blockading squadron watching the port of Galveston and the Texas coast.
Ironically, the rights that the U.S. had gone to war with Great Britain over during the Napoleonic Wars were abandoned when the northern states declared their blockade of Confederate ports. The Trent affair almost brought Great Britain into the war against the north. In November 1861, two Confederate diplomats were traveling to London aboard a British flagged mail packet, the Trent. The ship was then forcibly stopped and searched by a Union frigate. Despite the protestations of the Trent’s captain, the two Confederate diplomats were taken into custody by the North and detained at Fort Warren, Massachusetts. The British government and press were outraged by the insult to their flag and international law. The two officials were released because the British government demanded their return and began some military preparations.11
While the blockade grew ever more effective, it was never entirely effective. Throughout the second half of 1864 the port of Wilmington received 3.5 million pounds of meat, 1.5 million pounds of lead, 2 million pounds of saltpeter, 500,000 pairs of shoes, 300,000 blankets, 50,000 rifles, and 43 cannon. The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee received new uniforms and equipment.12 This does not mean that the blockade did not cause shortages amongst the population or the army, but that as an offensive strategy blockade alone would never defeat the South.
The only effective way the North closed Confederate ports was by physically capturing the port or destroying the fortifications and ships defending the port and occupying inland waters. Savannah was not captured until December 1864 when General Sherman took the city from the landward side. The South Atlantic Blockading Squadron had supported the northern army as it bombarded Fort Pulaski into submission. With the mouth of the Savannah River closed, Savannah lost its appeal as a blockade running destination. Likewise, the port of Mobile was not captured by Admiral Farragut; however his capture of Fort Morgan and the CSS Tennessee meant that blockade runners could not reach Mobile. Oftentimes, northern efforts to close a port simply shifted blockade running to another port. The Union offensive against Charleston in 1863 shifted blockade running to the port of Wilmington which because of the geography was even more difficult for the northern fleet to blockade than Charleston.
A blockade of China would be an immense undertaking. Chokepoints like the Malacca, Sunda, and Lombok Straits would all have to be guarded. However, the Law of the Sea recognizes a 200 NM Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ). Neutral nations’ EEZ must be respected by combatant nations. To effectively police the chokepoints of maritime Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia would have to support the U.S. position. But neither of them are U.S. treaty allies and it is a major planning assumption that they would automatically support the U.S. side in a conflict. China would certainly exert great amounts of pressure on those states to remain neutral.
An average of 52 oil tankers transit the Malacca Strait a day, and the sheer number of possible boardings and prize crews could rapidly overwhelm the combat forces enforcing the blockade.13 A more effective means of blockading China would be a massive mining campaign. During World War II the British flew 20,000 minelaying sorties in the Atlantic Theater. These sorties sank 683 Axis ships while losing 450 aircraft. Only 150 Axis ships were sank by British surface and subsurface vessels. In 1945, the U.S. Army Air Corps helped isolate Japan from the rest of the world, starving Japan of resources.14 Despite the historical successes, the U.S. has not kept pace with the rapid technological changes in mine technology. Today, the bulk of U.S. mines are air-dropped, but the U.S. would have difficulty sewing air-dropped minefields in the face of the PLAAF and Chinese air defenses.
Throughout history blockade has been used as a strategy to deny adversaries foreign trade and prevent enemy warships from going to sea. However, neither blockade mentioned solely won the war. Troops ashore decisively defeated enemy armies and seized territory to win those wars. A “bloodless distant blockade” is not a magical panacea to bend China to U.S. will. A blockade of either country will stress U.S. resources to the limit and carries unknown diplomatic risks. It has not worked in the past, and will continue to fail as a standalone strategy in the future. It is an effective aid to victory, but no secret weapon.
LT Jason Lancaster is an alumnus of Mary Washington College and has an M.A. from the University of Tulsa. He is currently serving as the N8 Tactical Development Officer at Commander, Destroyer Squadron 26. The above views are his own and do not reflect the position of the Navy or Department of Defense.
San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, 1994.
S. Navy Commander’s Operational Law Handbook NWP 1-14M, 2007.
National Research Council. 2001. Naval Mine Warfare: Operational and Technical Challenges for Naval Forces. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/10176
Francois Crouzet, “Wars, Blockade, and Economic Change in Europe, 1792-1815,” Journal of Economic History, Vol. 24 (1964).
Nicholas Tracy, The Naval Chronicle: The Contemporary Record of the Royal Navy at War, Volume III 1804-1806, (London, Stackpole Books, 1999), pp 12-13.
Brian Lavery, “Nelson’s Navy: The Ships, Men, and Organisation, 1793-1815” (Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 2000).
Alfred T. Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relation with the War of 1812 (London, Sampson, Low, Marston & Company, 1905), pp 2-4.
Robert M. Browning, From Cape Charles to Cape Fear (Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 1993).
Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government Vol. I, (Richmond, De Capo, 1990).
Stephen R. Wise, Lifeline of the Confederacy (Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 1988).
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